BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Nathan Adrian had 12 points and 10 rebounds, leading West Virginia to an 86-80 win over Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tarik Phillip scored 16 points for the West Region’s fourth-seeded Mountaineers, who struggled at times with the outside-shooting Bison. West Virginia (27-9) avoided a repeat of last year’s first-round meltdown when the third-seeded Mountaineers lost to Stephen F. Austin.
This win sets up a meeting against the region’s fifth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who hung on for a 60-58 win over Princeton earlier on Thursday.
Kimbal Mackenzie made 5 of 7 3-point attempts and led the Patriot League-champion Bison with 23 points. Bucknell (26-9) entered the tournament having won six straight and 14 of 16.
After squandering double-digit leads in both the first and second half, the Mountaineers finally pulled away in the final two minutes.
Phillip made all four free throw attempts over the final minute, and the Bison’s hopes realistically ended when Nate Jones missed a 3-pointer with 35 seconds remaining, allowing West Virginia to maintain an 81-74 edge.
West Virginia forced 15 turnovers but did allow more than 70 points for the 17th time this season. The Mountaineers entered the game 7-9 when allowing 70 or more points.
The Bison showed perseverance in facing and even overcoming the Mountaineers stifling press defense. Each time it appeared West Virginia was poised to blow the game out, Bucknell charged back.
The Bison overcame a 27-12 deficit in the first half to close the gap to 36-33 on Avi Toomer’s layup.
Then after Elijah Macon completed a three-point play to put the Mountaineers up 45-33 in the opening seconds of the second half, the Bison eventually closed the margin to 63-60 on Mackenzie’s contested 3-point basket from the left corner with 8:58 left.
It didn’t help that Bucknell’s top player, Nana Foulland, missed a five-minute stretch of the second half after picking up his fourth foul with 9:37 left.
The Patriot’s league’s MVP and defensive player of the year finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in just 30 minutes.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins took his familiar spot on a personal stool between his bench and the scorer’s table. A day earlier, Huggins spoke about enjoying his previous trips to Buffalo, where he’s now 4-0 as West Virginia coach — including 3-0 in tournament games. Huggins liked the city so much, he even returned to enjoy a successful fishing trip on Lake Erie.
FLASHING THE TREY
Mackenzie was so sure his open 3-pointer from the right corner was going in, he twirled and faced away from the basket, winked and flashed three fingers at Bison fans in the nearby stands. Sure enough, the shot swished through the net, cutting West Virginia’s lead to 58-55 with 12:18 remaining.
West Virginia: Plays fifth-seeded Notre Dame on Saturday.